6 signs your school-going child isn’t getting enough sleep

Make changes right away if junior displays any of these less well-known signs of sleep deprivation.

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Good quality sleep impacts everyone’s well-being in a significant way.

While it’s not ideal, many adults operate fairly well ― usually thanks to coffee ― even when they lack sleep. But this should not be the case for children as they will not be able to cope with the side effects of insufficient sleep.

“The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that school-age children between the ages of 7 and 13 years should be getting nine to 11 hours of sleep each night,” points out baby sleep expert Zoe Chu, a mother of four. “My 12-year-old twins and Primary 1 kid sleep from 8:30pm to 6am daily.”

Sure seems like kids spend a lot of time sleeping! However, according to the US-based NSF, children are meant to spend 40 per cent of their childhood sleeping because sufficient rest has a direct impact on their mental and physical development.

“When they don’t get enough sleep, it will affect their performance at school,” Chu explains. “Sleep deprivation affects their learning and problem-solving abilities, and concentration. It can also make them cranky and even hyperactive.”

Common signs of sleep deprivation include droopy eyes and constant yawning. But there are also less well-known clues that junior is sleep deficient. In fact, these signs are sometimes confused with behavioural problems.

Use this checklist to make sure you’re on top of your kiddo’s sleep needs. If he displays any hints, make immediate adjustments, so that he’ll get more rest. He:

#1 Has trouble waking up in the morning

It’s no mean feat to get little ones out of their beds every morning for school. However, it’s even more challenging to rouse a child who has not slept well. Besides needing to be awakened several times, your child may continue to drag his feet to the shower and at breakfast because they are so low on energy. Junior will most probably also wake up groggy and moody, and might lose their temper once or twice early in the morning. You’ll soon realise getting them out of the house every morning is becoming super tedious.

Children are meant to spend 40 per cent of their childhood asleep because sufficient rest has a direct impact on their mental and physical development.

#2 Takes cat naps everywhere

Another big indicator that your mini-me is not getting enough sleep at night is that he’s falling asleep everywhere else during the day. A short cat nap on the sofa while waiting for his ride to school, another snooze on the way to school, falling asleep in class or in the toilet and crashing the minute he gets home. When your body does not get the recommended hours of sleep, it needs to restore itself, so it’ll try to find pockets of time during the day to make up for the sleep deficit. However, because this isn’t the same quality of restful sleep you get at night, it won’t make you feel better. Don’t be hard on junior when this does happen though, it’s beyond his control ― his body is literally shutting down. Instead, find ways for him to sleep more. Pencil in a daily nap after school or encourage him to hit the sack earlier in the evenings. Plus, it’s also a good idea to teach him how to self settle in case he wakes up in the middle of the night.

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#3 Has a short temper

Remember those early days of caring for a newborn and how broken sleep wreaked havoc on your mental and emotional health? The same concept applies to your tyke as well. The lack of quality, restorative sleep means you will see a child who is more Grinch-like than sweet-natured. The smallest things will set junior off and he might take a long time to recover from his meltdown. His unpredictable behaviour might put off other kids from befriending him or joining him at play dates. This could eventually affect your child’s social life, which will in turn affect his self-esteem.

#4 Struggles in school

A tired body also means a tired mind. If he’s not dozing off at his desk in school, junior is probably day-dreaming or “sleeping with his eyes open”. It’s going to cost him big time, because soon he’s going to fall back on his studies, since he has no clue as to what’s going in class. Unable to catch up, he might lack motivation to give his best in his studies and give up on it completely the further he falls back. A tired child will also not be in top physical form, which means that your mini-me might perform badly during PE classes and soccer practice. A child who is inactive may gain weight and have to deal with any health problems that come with it.

“Studies have shown that the symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD are very similar and quite often they overlap.”

#5 Displays hyperactive behaviour

Unlike adults who tend to get mellow, the lack of rest has the opposite effect on kids. They will be easily excitable, talk excessively, have difficulty sitting still and act on impulse. When playing with others, they will also have difficulty sharing and waiting their turn. Since these symptoms are similar to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some kids who are genuinely sleep starved are being misdiagnosed with a behavioural problem. “Studies have shown that the symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD are very similar and quite often they overlap,” Chu notes. “This makes it harder for doctors to properly diagnose whether the child truly has ADHD or if the child just showing signs of sleep deprivation.”

# 6 Sleeps restlessly, snores loudly and stops breathing suddenly while sleeping

Sleep apnoea is the most common sleep disorder among kids and can start from as early as 3 years of age. Usually caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids that obstruct breathing during sleep, this results in interrupted sleep and junior wakes up feeling even more tired than the night before. This will, in turn, have a negative impact on your child’s day. If junior displays any of the accompanying symptoms, including loud snoring and their breathing stops completely for a few seconds, bring them to your doctor at once. Treatment is straightforward ― a simple half hour surgical procedure carried out through the nose and mouth. It doesn’t require any stitches or leave any scars and your child will finally be able to sleep well again.

Photos: iStock

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